If anything has changed in Waheed Ekun, the Agbaakin Mayegun of Ibadanland in the last 40 years, it was just his physique. With age, it is expected and it is natural.
Minus that, Waheed Ekun has truly remained himself with the discipline, dedication to duty, and the tenacity of purpose that have become his second nature.
He is an extrovert but not obstructive. In school, while one would not excuse him from the normal pranks associated with peers of his age, Ekun always made sure he was no where near those who were by then known as recalcitrants by the school authorities. Well behaved and thoroughbred individual, he wears his smiles like a perfume and his humility was suffocating- far back then- and is still is!
His exploits in Table Tennis was not accidental nor happenstance. It rose from his innate ability, laced with his versatility that is God given.
A grandfather and record holder of over 50 medals won across the globe, Ekun has more than distinguished himself as an icon and a responsible Nigerian, who could be trusted with positions of responsibility.
One of his lecturers at the University of Ife- now Obafemi Awolowo, has this to say about him- ” Honestly, l never knew l had a Waheed Ekun in my class. I was shocked, the day l knew. Always punctual, attentive and reserved. He asked probing questions, always. That made me to noticed him. Very impressive personality.”
That he has all it takes to lead the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), couldn’t be in doubt. He bears his mind on his dreams and vision for the great body, with the MEDIA HUB team in a tthought-provoking interview.
Can you tell us briefly what you remember in your days as tennis champion?
In my days as tennis champion, I remember vividly so many things. That time, I was a youngstar on the streets of Agbeni, Ibadan and that was when we started playing table tennis all round the place. We used all kinds of things to play table tennis, with broken-down doors, tables, chairs and we used everything to play table tennis. So that was how we started playing around the town, betting. In particular, betting was quite popular then. That was how we grew to know table tennis, and to play it was very very tough then. Eventually, I got to Liberty Stadium where they played free and that one impressed me a lot. I got to Liberty Stadium around 1970 and the coach then took me up and engaged me, and I was improving to the extent that I started to represent the Western State in 1970, ’71, ’72, ’73 on and on like that to the extent that I became the first national champion in 1973 and subsequently I won some other medals.
Are you satisfied with the state of sports in the country today?
Certainly no, I’m not happy at all. Because what we expected is not what we are getting now. We expected that it should have gone beyond this level, but unfortunately, they concentrate on some sports at the expense of others, that’s a very unfortunate development about Nigeria sports. That’s why everybody wants to travel abroad and it doesn’t augur well for the country, and most of the players and stars just struggle to be in the national team and once they travel, they don’t return to the country.
What is the way out?
The way out is to change our attitude towards sports. Everybody wants to survive, we need to change the orientation, that is why you don’t find children of well-to-do in Nigeria engaging in sports. It is the children of the down-trodden that are doing sports and it is for survival. The moment they get that opportunity to survive and they travel out, they just go away and never return. Nigeria should change the attitude to sports, that is the basic thing they must do. They have to make sure that everybody that is involved in sports sees hope that he is going to become somebody in future.
What stops professionals like you, who have attained heights in your career from heading associations where you can really partake in decision making?
That’s a very good question. Unfortunately that is not how they run the associations in Nigeria today. They have made it in a way that for you to be a professional is not a criterion for you to be in the association. They have made it a form of political representation where people are now appointed as a form of patronage and in that sense, they don’t consider professionalism. So, that is what is happening. You eventually find people who are influential and financially buoyant buying their way up in the association.
Have you any regret that you didn’t travel out of the country?
I have no regret whatsoever. I’m widely travelled and l have been privileged, to say the least. I give all glory to God for what I am in Nigeria.
Why didn’t you raise an academy?
To raise an academy, academy to produce super stars, good players, an academy for you to fend for yourself, you have to produce talent for the country and in doing that you have to make ends meet for yourself. When I consider all these, the venture does not pay, it is not rewarding. What do I mean by that? When you gather all these players together, you feed them and train them, time that you could have used for other things, and what do you get for all these? You get a pittance. Everybody now wants to play football, football, so the idea of academy for tennis is less financially rewarding, you don’t get financial reward at all. Why not leave it and pursue other things and incidentally there is no where I can travel to again, at what age? What do you want to go and do? We have seen the best of Europe and the worst of Europe, when you see our people, the type of things they do, they are not befitting and you see yourself as international star coming to do odd man’s job, that’s not for me.
Has any of your children taken after you in playing tennis?
Yes, they take after me but not as much as I did, because I said the other time that children of well-to-do Nigerians are not into sports per se; Just take a look at all sportsmen, they can never be children of Governors, Honourable Ministers, because the urge to be in sports is firstly to survive, but when we were playing it, we played it because we were good at the sports. But now, survival is the first thing, it’s not that you are doing sports, you are playing table tennis, hockey, it is what you are good at that made you go into that sports, everything looked good then, but now if anybody want to play it, we encourage them to play it, but not at the expense of their education. When you acquire education, it’s good because it puts you in goodstead.
Why do you want to head the CCII?
Ibadan is such a special city, from the time immemorial. Ibadan is so accommodating and every ethnic group assembles in Ibadan. Ibadan is a mini Nigeria, so that’s why they said Ibadan, a city of 100 villages. I want to be the President of CCII. Because that is the ultimate to be for any Ibadan man. You want to head the apex organisation, that holds the whole city. I want to head the organisation because, it’s where it’s happening and where it is happening is where they should find me. Apart from success in the area of sports, I want to step up humanitarian efforts and civil organisation activities. I believe l have all that could uplift Ibadan status, all the contacts, all the connections I have made here and abroad would become advantageous. I believe it’s the best thing I can do for now to help Ibadan, my beloved city.
Why do you think the clamour for Ibadan State has not materialised?
Yes, it has not materialised, not because Ibadan is not worth being called a state, but because of internal things that were happening then. Ibadan was the capital of the old Western Region and the capitals of the other former regions have been made states. When we were to get it, the political will then was not there, now everybody is aware that Ibadan is due for a state. We shall ensure that all hands are on deck to achieve the creation of Ibadan State. It is achievable, all things being equal.
What is the core purpose of CCII?
The core purpose of CCII is not far fetched, you know there are many organisations in Ibadan and we believe there should be an umbrella for those organisations to stand for Ibadan as a whole. That is why we need a central body to coordinate their activities, to make sure Ibadan gets its rightful place in the history of the country. For instance, in the educational institutions, they are not employing and engaging Ibadan to head them, we feel its not fair, that is why CCII is coming to play a role there, like the University of Ibadan, The Polytechnic Ibadan, NISER. We are putting our resources together to make sure Ibadan gets its rightful place in every activity.
What are the specific things you set out to achieve under your presidency?
Under my presidency, I wish to accomplish the completion of the Olubadan Palace. Olubadan is a first class Oba in Nigeria and the palace is not befitting and we have agreed to build a new palace. It has started but its not completed yet, I hope, when I become the president, I will be able to mobilize all stakeholders, people of Ibadan descent and non-indigenes because almost every important person today has passed through Ibadan, we want to call all of therm together to assist in having a very good palace for the Oba. Secondly, Ibadan State, we want to make sure we fight for it. By the time Federal Government opens space up for people to agitate, I believe we have the team and resources to convince them that Ibadan ought to have been given a state before now. And then, we don’t have a google map for Ibadan, that is anytime you want to go to anywhere in Ibadan, you just google it and you know where you are going. I have started it in 2011 when I was the chairman of Ibadan Week, I gave money for them to start the project which I hope when I become the President I’m going to complete it. We want to make sure people don’t encroach on Ibadan land, they are encroaching into Ibadan land. We want to stop it and do many other things that will uplift the city.
What is responsible for the non-completion of the Olubadan’s Palace despite the huge amount of money committed to it by the former governor?
The first is fund, the fund was not adequate, everybody expected somebody to do it. It is a matter of one expecting the other and nobody does it. But it is already built up now, but some other things must be done, that is why I said once we get money, we will certainly complete it,. A guest house is currently being constructed by the Yemi Soladoye administration and I believe the main palace will be ready in due course.
You raised an issue of somebody expecting somebody else to do it and its not done, how are you going to address the issue?
Appeal is going to do it, we want to appeal to people to be committed to Ibadan course and we want to confirm how much we need to put the place in order. We want to know the exact amount and we shall appeal to everybody’s sense of responsibility to do the job.
The issue of insecurity in the state is alarming, how worried are you?
The present administration has to be tough on criminal elements across the state, as punishment is a major deterrent against criminality. As far as CCII is concerned, the situation is giving us concern, all these people are known to the villagers, to the people, elders of the community must talk to them and monitor them so that if anything happens, we will know who to call. Secondly government must provide jobs as means of livelihood for a good number of the youths. That’s why they go into crime. By the time I become the President of CCII, we will mobilise support for the Olubadan and everybody to understand that to be in a society, you have to conform with the norms of the society. By the time you do all these, insecurity will be reduced to a very large extent.